Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Trafalgar 1805 DOCUMENTARY

Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Trafalgar 1805 DOCUMENTARY


Napoleon Bonaparte kept the whole of Europe in fear for more than a decade. And although the Napoleonic Wars were predominantly a land conflict, many of his political and military decisions were informed by the dominance of the British fleet at sea and the naval actions that were fought earlier in the war. Among them was the last great sea battle fought under sail, the Battle of Trafalgar. French victories at Marengo and Hohenlinden in 1800 forced Austria to sue for a separate peace, leaving the United Kingdom as the leading member of the Second Coalition. Napoleon’s forces dominated on land, so the only way for the United Kingdom to continue the war was via naval actions. The British Navy was blockading France from receiving foreign goods and in turn forced Prussia, Russia, Denmark and Sweden to ally against Britain to defend the trading routes. While the Russian Navy was in its winter harbors, the British attacked Copenhagen in 1801 and forced Denmark to leave the alliance. When the Russian Tsar Paul I died a month later, his heir Alexander I was more lenient towards the United Kingdom and the anti-British union ceased to exist. France had its share of problems. One of its colonies Haiti had revolted in 1791. Napoleon decided to send an expeditionary force to restore French rule over the island and its lucrative sugar industry in late 1801. The British fleet chased the expedition across the Atlantic Ocean. The island was blockaded and the French received no supplies or reinforcements. It was clear that neither side could strike the final blow and a peace treaty was signed in March of 1802 at Amiens. The British promised to return the French colonies and leave Malta and Egypt while Napoleon had to rescind control of Naples and the Papal States. For the first time in a decade, Europe was at peace. Napoleon sent a new expedition to Haiti but it failed. Holding onto the colonies proved to be extremely difficult so in April of 1803, the vast territory of Louisiana was sold to the United States. The Haitian expedition and the fact that Napoleon was asserting control over Switzerland was worrisome for the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the French demands for Britain to leave Malta and Egypt were left unheeded. Napoleon started preparing a new force at Boulogne to invade the British Isles, but it was the United Kingdom who declared the war that would be later known as the War of the Third Coalition in May of 1803. Napoleon was not expecting the renewal of hostilities and his fleet was scattered across various harbors with 21 ships of the line in Brest, 12 in Toulon and 9 more in the Atlantic. The superior British Navy blockaded both ports. Napoleon developed a plan in the summer of 1804. One of his fleets needed to break the blockade, move into the open sea then attack the part of the English Navy blockading another harbor and unite with the portion of the French fleet stationed there. That would have allowed the French to get the army at Boulogne across the English Channel. The situation changed for the better for the French in October, when the British sank some Spanish vessels. This provoked Spain to declare war on the United Kingdom and ally itself to France in December. Napoleon now had the numbers to implement his plan. In late March of 1805, the French commander at Toulon Vice Admiral Pierre Villeneuve ordered his fleet to sail out. He managed to evade the loose blockade set by British commander, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. It seems that the British commander was sure that Napoleon would try to land a force in Italy so the majority of Nelson’s vessels were around Sardinia. However, Villeneuve was implementing Napoleon’s plan. He passed the Straits of Gibraltar in early April, was joined by some Spanish ships and continued towards the Caribbean. Nelson got this intelligence only in late April and started his pursuit across the Atlantic. The French arrived at the Caribbean Sea basin in May and captured a few British outposts. Nelson reached the area in June but was still one step behind Villeneuve. Despite that, the French weren’t able to inflict much damage to the local British colonies and started moving back to Europe, arriving in the second half of July. A smaller British fleet under Vice Admiral Calder was ordered to stop Villeneuve but the subsequent battle near Cape Finisterre was indecisive. Still this encounter prevented the French from reaching Brest to lift the blockade and they returned to Cadiz. At the same time, Austria and Russia joined the Third Coalition and Napoleon had to march his army stationed in Boulogne to the east, which meant that the invasion of the British Isles was postponed. Nelson was appointed the overall commander of the Royal Navy and as the allied French-Spanish Armada concentrated in Cadiz, he sent the majority of his fleet off the coast of France to block Villeneuve. By the end of September, he joined the fleet personally. Villeneuve received an order from Napoleon to move towards Italy but ignored it. On the 18th of October, the French commander received a new order to stay in Cadiz and wait for his replacement. Once again, the order was neglected and the Allied fleet went to sea on the 20th. On the 21st, Villeneuve’s navy was getting close to the Straits of Gibraltar. Nelson allowed the French to move as far away from Cadiz as possible to prevent them from retreating. However, by dawn the British vessels were detected. Villeneuve didn’t expect Nelson’s navy to be so strong, so he ordered his ships back to the harbor. This maneuver failed due to lack of training and the Allied fleet ended up with an incoherent line. The usual tactic of the age was to approach a foe and enter a shooting match, so the fate of the battle was decided by the quality of the ships, crew training and sheer luck. Instead, Nelson divided his fleet into two halves to attack the Allies broadside. He was personally leading the northern group that had 13 ships of the line with his flagship HMS Victory in front. While Vice Admiral Collingwood’s squadron of 14 ships of the line was to the south led by the flagship HMS Royal Sovereign. By midday, the distance between the two navies was just five kilometers. They were off the coast of Cape Trafalgar and Nelson issued his famous order: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Royal Sovereign was recently repaired and was faster than most ships, so the wind moved it dangerously close to the enemy line, while the other ships in the squadron were lagging behind. At 12:20, Royal Sovereign fired the first volley upon Santa Ana and Fougueux and these vessels shot back. Collingwood’s flagship was attacked by four enemy ships. Only 15 minutes later, Belleisle arrived and covered the right board of Royal Sovereign. More English vessels moved into the fray and tried to cut the Allied line, but Collingwood was outnumbered at the initial point of contact. Still the positioning of the Allied navy didn’t allow its second line ships to assist and by 14:00, the majority of the first line vessels were either sunk or surrendered. To the north, Nelson’s squadron got close to the enemy line by 12:20 but the wind was calming and that made Nelson’s ships a very slow target. His refusal to fight using traditional line tactics was detrimental at this point of the battle as none of his ships were able to shoot while the enemy was sending volley after volley. Despite casualties, the flagship Victory was moving forward. Nelson ordered a fake maneuver to make the enemy think that his ships would form up in a line but instead he then ordered one more turn and Victory ended up between the French flagship Bucentaure and the smaller Redoutable. This allowed Nelson’s ship to use the guns on both sides. The French ships needed to turn and Victory used that to take Bucentaure out of the game. However, Victory itself was taking massive damage from Redoutable. The French ship was also using sharpshooters and at 13:15, one of their shots wounded Nelson. It was clear that this wound was deadly. Redoutable’s crew attempted to board Victory, but the British managed to stop them. Victory was soon reinforced by Temeraire, which moved across Redoutable’s left board and started shooting. By 14:20, Redoutable was captured by the crew of Temeraire. To the north, British Neptune entered into a battle with Spanish Santissima Trinidad and managed to take it out of the fight. By 14:00, it was becoming clear for Villeneuve that he was losing the battle and he ordered the northern portion of his line to move to the southwest and collapse on the British fleet. However, the captains of these ships failed to see the signal and this became the final mistake of the Allied fleet. Villeneuve’s Bucentaure was in no shape to continue fighting and soon he surrendered. By the time the remaining 10 Allied ships started their move to assist most of the vessels in the center were either sunk or captured. Collingwood took overall command of the British Navy and ordered Nelson’s squadron to intercept the French reinforcements. The remaining Allied ships decided to retreat. It was a complete victory with the British capturing 18 enemy ships. Nelson passed away as soon as he heard the news of the victory. The French defeat at Trafalgar confirmed the naval dominance of the United Kingdom and meant that Napoleon would not be able to invade Britain. But while the battle was raging at sea, the Emperor’s Grand Army was moving into Germany against the Allied Austrian and Russian armies. Thank you for watching our video on the Battle of Trafalgar. The second video in this series that will cover the Battle of Austerlitz will be released in two weeks. We would like to express our gratitude to our Patreon supporters who make the creation of these videos possible. Patreon is the best way to suggest a new video, learn about our schedule and much more. The video was narrated by me Officially Devin. Don’t forget to stop by my channel for my narrative Let’s Plays. This is the Kings and Generals channel, and we will catch you on the next one.

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